The Corner


Sweden’s Coming Election

Writing in Unherd, Tino Sanandaji discusses Sweden’s next general election (due in September) and the challenge it may represent for the Social Democrats, long the country’s dominant party, despite the occasional interregnum. As Sanandaji notes, September’s may be the first election since 1917 in which the Social Democrats fail to emerge as the single largest party (when the center-right has won, it has been via coalitions led by the Moderates, which is as close—usually not very—as  Sweden gets to a conservative party). Even if the Social Democrats do emerge as the largest party (my guess, FWIW) “polls predict they may “win” with only 23 to 26% of the vote, their worst result for over a century.”

The problem?

Blue-collar voters, who have traditionally voted for the center-left, are leaving the party over its views on immigration.


The Moderates have not been able to been able to capitalize on this to the  extent that would be expected in many other countries. That’s because during their last period in government (under Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt) they embraced an arrogantly relaxed immigration policy for reasons that ranged from simple-minded libertarianism to junk economics to a sense of their own moral superiority.

As Sanandaji notes, the Moderates have recovered in the polls after moving rightwards on migration issues. But this move has come too late to win over a large enough number of those formerly Social Democratic blue-collar voters to hand a majority to the center-right. Too many of them have already turned elsewhere, to the (to quote Sanandaji) “anti-immigration and socially conservative Sweden Democrats, with historic roots tainted by xenophobia.”

As he explains:

Defying the historic stability of the Swedish party system, the Sweden Democrats have roughly doubled their vote share in each election since 2002, when they scored little more than 1%. The average of recent polls puts them around 19 to 23%. In fact, this may be an underestimate, since polls have in the past significantly undercounted their vote share.

The dramatic growth in the SD’s support was more difficult than those numbers suggest. There was understandable reluctance to vote for a party with such distinctly unsavory roots (anyone who was in Sweden in the 1990s  or early 2000s can explain why), but voters worried by mass immigration were ultimately left with nowhere else to turn.

Within what had traditionally been their own party, Social Democrats unwilling to accept happy talk over mass immigration were, as Sanandaji explains, “bullied and branded as hateful or ignorant”. And the Moderates (at that time) were no more sympathetic to any deviation from what was a  stifling establishment consensus.

Back in 2014, Reinfeldt (The Local reported) “rejected the notion that Sweden offers a safe haven for more refugees than the country can cope with”:

“What does the word “enough” mean? Sweden is full? The Nordic region is full? Are we too many people? We are 25 million people living in the North. I often fly over the Swedish countryside and I would advise others to do. There are endless fields and forests. There’s more space than you might imagine. Those who claim that the country is full, they should demonstrate where it is full.”

Confronted  with logic like that (a notorious example, but the thinking that underpinned it was far from atypical within the Moderate party leadership at that time) and presented with no other alternative, former Social Democratic voters turned to the SD, a switch made easier by the SD’s leftish welfare policies and its efforts to distance itself from its disreputable past.

They have not been the only voters to transfer their support to the SD, meaning that the outcome in September is highly unpredictable, with options ranging from different types of minority government to—who knows—a German-style grand coalition between center-left and center-right, a coalition that would reinforce the electorate’s impression that the SD is the only ‘real’ opposition, an impression that has worked to that party’s advantage in recent years.

Meanwhile, note this from Sanandaji’s article:

Sweden’s highly generous refugee policy never had majority support among voters, including Social Democratic voters.

There’s a lesson there.

Read the whole thing.


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